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Android Privacy Electronic Frontier Foundation Google

Google Cuts Android Privacy Feature, Says Release Was Unintentional 324

An anonymous reader writes "Peter Eckersley at the EFF reports that the 'App Ops' privacy feature added to Android in 4.3 has been removed as of 4.4.2. The feature allowed users to easily manage the permission settings for installed apps. Thus, users could enjoy the features of whatever app they liked, while preventing the app from, for example, reporting location data. Eckersley writes, 'When asked for comment, Google told us that the feature had only ever been released by accident — that it was experimental, and that it could break some of the apps policed by it. We are suspicious of this explanation, and do not think that it in any way justifies removing the feature rather than improving it.1 The disappearance of App Ops is alarming news for Android users. The fact that they cannot turn off app permissions is a Stygian hole in the Android security model, and a billion people's data is being sucked through. Embarrassingly, it is also one that Apple managed to fix in iOS years ago.'"
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Google Cuts Android Privacy Feature, Says Release Was Unintentional

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  • Put in an app (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 13, 2013 @10:02AM (#45679475)

    I thought I read that they just pulled it out and into its own app, so that you'd have to seek out this feature. They wanted to keep folks who didn't know exactly what they were doing to stumble upon this and mess up their phones.

  • Re:really ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by robmv ( 855035 ) on Friday December 13, 2013 @10:14AM (#45679609)

    It was never a feature, people access it using a third party application that calls an Activity that is not normally accessible from the OS UI. It is like when people found initial semi-working code of multiple user profiles on Android 4.1, again not accessible to the users, and later releases added the feature when the code was completed and tested. I think we will see this feature enabled on later Android versions when they get to finish it and find ways to make old applications not crash when permissions are removed.

  • Great in Theory (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ironicsky ( 569792 ) on Friday December 13, 2013 @10:57AM (#45680029) Journal

    The app is great in theory, but horrible in implementation. I checked out the App Ops functionality and if you don't know what you are doing you can cripple your phone. The problem is it allows you to change the functionality of system apps and core services by denying them access to the device *oops*.

    I definitely think this is a needed feature, but it needs to be implemented at installation of apps from the play store. When an app says "We'll need the following permissions" the user should be able to toggle off each one they dont want the app having access to, then use the traditional permissions manager to modify it in the future.. From the App Ops, I learned that Angry Birds accesses your location when you run it. For what user-supporting function? None... There is no reason why it needs access to my location. My Grocery Store locator? That needs access to my location, but not my contacts.

  • developer ego (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spaceman375 ( 780812 ) on Friday December 13, 2013 @11:28AM (#45680347)
    By far the most annoying permission is abused by developers on every OS I've tried: Launch at boot. Of Course, YOUR app is so very important that it HAS to use time and resources just so it can be ready at all times. Get over yourselves: I'll launch it when I want it. I'd be WAY happy to just be able to deny that one permission on Android.
  • Re:really ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 13, 2013 @11:42AM (#45680499)

    The old CyanogenMod that I use on my HTC G2 has permission controls. It works by faking the interface that the permission normally provides. Therefore apps do not crash because they still get permission but it's to fake data.

    The only problem with it is that it is very out of date at this point and it does not fake the data for all permissions.

  • Re:Ups and Downs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 13, 2013 @12:07PM (#45680731)
    That is very true; much of it is moving to closed source. Unfortunately we can't have nice things. We can't have nice things because of Tivoisation ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tivoisation [wikipedia.org] ). We can't have nice things because of Samsung trying to "demote" the Google apps in favor of their crapware. We can't have nice things because of hardware vendors and carriers who won't update their devices (forcing Google to move stuff from core into apps that can be updated without intervention). There are a lot of things driving Google into close-sourcing more of the interesting bits of Android. None of those are "because they want to" or "because they are evil". They are, instead, being forced into it due to the evil of others.
  • Re:really ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rob Riggs ( 6418 ) on Friday December 13, 2013 @01:05PM (#45681485) Homepage Journal

    You may not agree with that perspective, but it is the issue that Google is wrestling with: Should they facilitate the ability to prevent apps from knowing that they are not getting the clean data that they currently take as payment for producing the app?

    In my opinion, our current standards for acquiring such data are extremely shady, relying heavily on a consumer base that is deeply misinformed of the extent of the surveillance and the risks the data stores pose. Where the balance of good lies between surveillance and countermeasures is hard to tell; it could be that subverting the datastream is pro-social in the long run -- but that is not the side on which Google's bread is buttered. They have a strong motive to see things from the app developers / watchers / revenue stream point of view. A great deal of money flows to Google from informed, uninformed, and misinformed consent to surveillance.

    I completely agree. There is another, related problem that Google needs to address. Users have little recourse when app producers renege on the privacy that was initially sold to the user. For example, I paid for WeatherBug Elite simply because it did not require "phone state and identity" when I purchased it. Guess what? A year later they wanted that information for "Elite" too. I can either accept or not upgrade. I don't upgrade. I have a bunch of apps that are not getting updated because the new perms they ask for are ridiculous. If users cannot maintain the privacy that they paid for, what other options exist for them?

    Either privacy has value and must be honored by app producers as part of the sale, or it doesn't and users have the right to block access to private information.

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake